If Abortion Is Legal In India, Why Does A Woman Have To Go Through Hell To Get One?

It was very scary. The entire thought of going through the procedure to be clean. The most shocking thing was the news of pregnancy which came along a huge wave of mixed emotions. How has it ever been easy for a woman since time immemorial? You break walls, ceilings and smash the societal norms, crawl through the alienation, and injustices and then you hail. You do hail but carrying along with the badges of problems, the scars, the wounds very deep.

It was never exciting to go through an abortion. What a woman goes through is something a person who has gone through it can fathom. I was glad to feel the butterflies in the tummy, for real. Two tiny legs and two tiny hands. And a fist so small and webbed tiny fingers. The rapid fast heartbeat, that rang in my ears all day and all night. I knew it would come to an end.

And I knew the storm was right there to pound upon me and wash away all that I had. But for a moment, just for some moments, I felt like the most strengthened being to gear myself up and to fight this alone. I was dying and burning inside; I screamed and howled but it was only the empty walls who gave me company in those dreadful mornings. For a moment I wished I could drop everything and run away to somewhere and have the unborn. But at this, my other world would come crashing and I was in a fix to not let go of that. It sounded so selfish as it could, I grieved on myself and hated myself for reasons unknown. 

I decided to father the tiny little butterfly and I decide to have the best days of my life with it, till we were separated and let it fly up. It sends chills down my spine, a lump in the throat, even now and tears trying to burst out, a pain in the heart so big that it consumed me every day, killed me every night.

Abortion is a divisive topic across the world. This is a scene from a pro-choice protest in the state of Minnesota in the United States. (Photo: Lori Shaull/Wikimedia Commons)

The fight was never easy. 5 hospitals turned me down, all alone with health reports piling on the table, ultrasound pictures lying on the bed. And I remember I saw it moving, and I giggled and felt an emotion which I can never put into words. I don’t have any word to describe the feeling in my dictionary. For the first time, I felt the value of my mom, of any mom, the strength of a woman, a power so strong embedded under my skin. A fire that burned me alive. 

I got to see the harsh reality of government hospitals, judgmental doctors, unaware hospital staff, the business strategies of private hospitals, profit-seeking doctors, money mongers etc. And this saddens me because in 1971, abortion was decriminalized in India under the MTP Act. But the sad truth is half the population thinks abortion and female foeticide is the same thing. Many think that abortion is still illegal in India. And the battle after the abortion is like a second death one goes through.

-Verbie

My encounter with Verbie and my conversation with her was indeed a deep one. Based entirely on empathetic feelings and friendship, it has set into my heart. I knew the battle she fought was of an anti-society, independent young woman. She probably knew that if she chose to keep the child she would have to go through the grief of so many things and through so many people. She would have to deal with the fear of  her own life and the fear of her parents’. Either way was hard, as one can imagine. It is very easy for us to be on the other side and pass judgment, and give suggestions and talk about probable situations and give biased pieces of advice. But it is never easy in the shoes of that woman who goes through it and yet we choose to prick her more.

The hospitals and doctors who deny a woman’s rights to be pro-life or pro-choice, a doctor who isn’t aware of the legality of carrying the foetal remains by the mother for burial or other ceremonies, to hospitals who make patients wait and the staff which is rude and wouldn’t even let a pregnant lady sit on the nurses tool to tie her shoelaces, I pity you. I don’t know how you got the privilege to work for people and provide service to mankind.

In India, 13 women die every day due to unsafe abortions, and why do you think this happens? It’s us, who make it so difficult for some women to ensure safe abortions. It’s the private clinics, who charge an amount so high for performing safe and secure abortions that makes it impossible for women to reap the benefits. I stand here questioning myself and asking who to blame – the society, the people, our parents or our relatives or ourselves for not abiding what we were taught till now.

Change is a distant dream. We sit here and just hope. And we sit and shut women who have the spark, we throw mud and dirt on women who make their own choices. And the most indigestible part?  We, women, are the first ones to point fingers at other women and bring them down.

Note: Names have been changed and are not relevant to any person alive or dead.

Featured image for representative purpose only.
Featured image source: Priyanka Parashar/Mint via Getty Images.
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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